Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
The latest adventure from Tim Burton would seem tailor-made for his tastes but it’s a convoluted slog, dense in mythology and explanatory dialogue but woefully…
* This filmography is not intended to be a comprehensive list of this artist’s work. Instead it reflects the films this person has been involved with that have been reviewed on this site.
Remembering Dick Smith; The importance of "Playtime"; Tom Hiddleston's letter to Joss Whedon; The lazy nihilism of Woody Allen; Fan Bingbing to play Anna May Wong.
An interview with Woody Allen about his new film, "Magic in the Moonlight."
Remembering James Garner; Jerusalem Film Festival; Ignatiy Vishnevetsky on "At the Movies"; Val Kilmer in "Tombstone"; DC Comics' Diversity Crisis.
A report from the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival.
For the second in his ongoing series, filmmaker and blogger Scout Tafoya looks at the remarkable Cannes Film Festival of 1968, when the festival came to a screeching halt in the face of real-world upheaval. (Check out his amazing look at Cannes 1960 here.)The complete transcripts:Part 1
The first two "Terminator" movies were to me what "Star Wars" was to previous generations. Every kid wanted to be Eddie Furlong. The prospect of having a badass mother who didn't freak out when you grabbed a gun was overwhelming. On top of that young John Connor had his very own Terminator to command!! When I first watched those movies it was the violence of the first film, the special effects of the second and the time travel paradox of both that kept me up most nights in awe. I must've watched them a hundred times and I still give them credit for kicking off my interest to science fiction and the many mind boggling philosophical ideas that come hand in hand with the genre.
Marie writes: Intrepid club member Sandy Kahn discovered the following Danish designers "Monstrum" who make extraordinary playgrounds for children. I think they're the stuff of dreams, whatever your age. Indeed; behold the Rahbek kindergarten in Frederiksberg, Denmark, and Monstrum's first playground...
The Rocket and The Princess Tower! "Just like a set design, a playground must have an inspiring front that attracts children, and a functional backside with climbing, sliding and relaxing options. The idea of the playground is to combine a girl's mind with a boy's approach into one big common playground. The princess tower consists of three floors, and the rocket has two floors. From the top floor of the Rocket, you can slide down the 6 m long double slide together with an astronaut friend." (click to enlarge.)
Hollywood has the same problem with the Oscars that the Republicans are having with their primaries. They can't seem to agree on a candidate with a broad appeal to the base. All nine Oscar finalists were, like Mitt Romney, good enough to be nominated. But none of them appealed to average multiplex moviegoers, just as it's said Romney doesn't appeal to the GOP base.
Making lists is not my favorite occupation. They inevitably inspire only reader complaints. Not once have I ever heard from a reader that my list was just fine, and they liked it. Yet an annual Best Ten list is apparently a statutory obligation for movie critics.
My best guess is that between six and ten of these movies won't be familiar. Those are the most useful titles for you, instead of an ordering of movies you already know all about.
One recent year I committed the outrage of listing 20 movies in alphabetical order. What an uproar! Here are my top 20 films, in order of approximate preference.
The two most important things that can happen to you in a mainstream movie are being killed and having an orgasm. Sometimes in facial close-ups it's hard to tell one from the other. When Pauline Kael saw that wall poster in Italy saying "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," she sensed she was onto something.
It's a wrap for the 2010 Muriel Awards, but although the winners have been announced, there's still plenty of great stuff to read about the many winners and runners-up. ('Cause, as we all know, there's so much more to life than "winning.") I was pleased to be asked to write the mini-essay about "The Social Network" because, no, I'm not done with it. (Coming soon: a piece about the Winkelvii at the Henley Gregatta section -- which came in 11th among Muriel voters for the year's Best Cinematic Moment.)
You might recall that last summer I compared the editorial, directorial and storytelling challenges of a modest character-based comedy ("The Kids Are All Right") to a large-scale science-fiction spectacular based on the concept of shifting between various levels of reality/unreality -- whether in actual time and space or in consciousness and imagination. (The latter came in at No. 13 in the Muriels balloting; the former in a tie for No. 22.) My point was that, as far as narrative filmmaking is concerned, there isn't much difference. To illustrate a similar comparison this time, I've used a one-minute segment out of "The Social Network" (Multiple levels of storytelling in The Social Network). You might like one picture better than the other for any number of reasons, but I find their similarities more illuminating than their differences:
[This resurrected piece is my contribution to the Steven Spielberg Blogathon co-hosted by Adam Zanzie (Icebox Movies) and Ryan Kelly (Medfly Quarantine). Originally published in the (pre-home-video) December, 1982, issue of The Informer, a monthly publication of the Seattle Film Society, when I was just a wee lad, barely a quarter-century old.]
"E.T." is a universal film -- and I'm not just talking about the MCA company that released it. Steven Spielberg's latest celluloid fable is fast on its way to becoming the most popular movie ever made. Yet, unfortunately, critical attention has been focused primarily on the phenomenon of "E.T." rather than on the cinematic merits of the movie itself. So much has been said about "E.T." as an extraordinary entertainment, a masterfully orchestrated work of childlike wish-fulfillment, that people seem to have overlooked the fact that it's also -- dare I say it? -- a rich and resonant Work of Art. Perhaps Spielberg is too unassuming, too unabashedly populist in his style and (overt) subject matter to make critics sit up and take notice of what he's doing from shot to shot.
Nevertheless, "E.T." is connecting with millions of people worldwide -- and for good reason. Like "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," Spielberg's other masterpiece about intergalactic harmony and understanding (and perhaps the largest-scale abstract/experimental film released by a major Hollywood studio since Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey."), "E.T." is above all about contact, about the very nature of communication, and the system of signs we human beings have created to bring ourselves closer to one another: spoken language, gestures, symbolic objects, physical contact -- and any combination of the above.
The ad slogan for "Close Encounters" (hereafter referred to as "CE3K") was "We Are Not Alone," and both that film and "E.T." are about alienated individuals who try to break out of their isolation, who struggle to bridge the void between themselves and others. Perhaps the best way to get to the heart of these movies is to take a look at some of the ways Spielberg's characters communicate with (or fail to reach) each other -- and how Spielberg uses cinematic technique to bring film, characters, and audiences, into contact.
Spending almost two hours with the relentlessly drunk character is not a pleasant thing at all, and it is also not easy to watch the man who chooses to abandon himself to his own hell. He is almost near at the bottom. All he can do is moving further to the final destination he has been reaching for. He still has some fancy about getting out of his torment, but it only reminds him that he has already crossed the line. He screams out of frustration near the end of the movie, "It's not possible -- not in this world!"
John Huston's "Under the Volcano"(1984) poignantly looks at one of the bleakest states of mind. This is a sad portrayal of a man struggling with his addiction and the agonizing contradiction resulting from it. As one character in the movie says, no one can live without love, but he cannot accept it even if he has desperately yearned for.
The movie is mainly about one unfortunate day of the former British consul Geoffrey Firmin (Albert Finney) who has been stuck in Cuernavaca, Mexico. According to him, he resigned his post for himself, but that may be not true considering his present state. He is a drunkard going through the final stages of alcoholism where the drinking is necessary for getting "sober." He says he can deal with his addiction ("Surely you appreciate the fine balance I must strike between, uh, the shake of too little and, uh, the abyss of too much"), but his abstinence is just the brief moment of looking at his glass. His body soon craves for alcohol, he frantically searches for the bottle, and, after satisfying the need, he passes out.
I do not know what Jean-Luc Godard's "Film Socialisme" does because I haven't had the opportunity to see it. But the initial reviews from Cannes are, incredibly, the same ones he's been getting his entire career -- based in part on assumptions that Godard means to communicate something but is either too damned perverse or inept to do so. Instead, the guy keeps making making these crazy, confounded, chopped-up, mixed-up, indecipherable movies! Possibly just to torture us. Many approach the films themselves as though they are puzzles designed to frustrate (and to eventually be "solved"), then they blame Godard for not doing a better job of solving them himself because they're too hard. Herewith, a sampling of New York Times reviews over the years. Just about any of them could be about any of Godard's movies -- and, positive or negative, some are noticeably more perceptive than others. A key with the "answers" (who wrote what about which film) is at the bottom.
1. Mr. Godard sometimes makes his storytelling more difficult than it needs to be.
2. And neither can Mr. Godard make us understand why the wife in his drama suddenly tells him she has contempt for him and decides to leave. Has she lost faith in him? Is she bored? Or is she just fed up with watching him wear his hat all the time?
Evidently, Mr. Godard has attempted to make this film communicate a sense of the alienation of individuals in this complex modern world. And he has clearly directed to get a tempo that suggests irritation and ennui.
Fifty years ago, the Palme d'Or winner at Cannes was Fellini's "La Dolce Vita." More every year I realize that it was the film of my lifetime. But indulge me while I list some more titles.
The other entries in the official competition included "Ballad of a Soldier," by Grigori Chukhrai; "Lady with a Dog," by Iosif Kheifits; "Home from the Hill," by Vincente Minnelli; "The Virgin Spring," by Ingmar Bergman;" "Kagi," by Kon Ichikawa; "L'Avventura," by Michelangelo Antonioni; "Le Trou," by Jacques Becker; "Never on Sunday," by Jules Dassin; "Sons and Lovers," by Jack Cardiff; "The Savage Innocents," by Nicholas Ray, and "The Young One," by Luis Bunuel.
And many more. But I am not here at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival to mourn the present and praise the past.
Hello, I'm Omar Moore. I was born and raised in London, where I grew up before moving to New York City with my parents. After branching out in the Big Apple on my own for a number of years, I moved west to San Francisco. I love America and its promise. We all need to do our small part to make this great country even better for all. Where a film is concerned, it is never "only a movie." Images mean something. They have unyielding power and influence, whether in "Birth of A Nation", "Un Chien Andalou", "Night Of The Hunter", "Killer Of Sheep", "Persona", "Psycho", "A Clockwork Orange", "Blazing Saddles", "Straw Dogs", "Soul Man", "Chameleon Street", "Do The Right Thing", "Bamboozled" or "Irreversible". A filmmaker generally doesn't put images in a film if they are meaningless.
As the quaintly anachronistic title suggests, "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus" is as whimsical and rickety as any Terry Gilliam contraption -- an apparent labor of love, and not just for its star Heath Ledger, who died during production, but for the smoke-and-mirrors tomfoolery that goes into the construction of illusions. Another of Gilliam's charmingly antiquated, hand-crafted thingamadoodles, this one gets off to a bit of a slow start -- trying to set up too many stories... but spinning too many stories, and keeping track of them all, is also a good part of its subject.
Ledger's untimely death unavoidably became another element, since he hadn't finished filming his central role at the time of his demise. Gilliam, as you probably know, figured out a way to complete the film with three other actors -- Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell -- stepping in to complete the part. Once you're watching the movie, that no longer seems like such a strange or desperate move, but I'm not going to tell you how or why it works. (Remember that Natalie Wood died during the filming of "Brainstorm" and Brandon Lee in a production accident on the set of "The Crow," but those two pictures were completed, for better or worse. David Lynch's "Mulholland Dr." was a failed TV series pilot that wasn't released theatrically until Lynch said he dreamed an ending for it.) A title card at the end announces it as a presentation of "Heath Ledger and Friends."
(Continuing the discussion, "Yes, but is it art?):
I labeled the above short film ("close up") a critical essay / dream sequence, which is what I intended when I made it last fall. But pretend you saw it at a film festival or a gallery and were told it was a "found footage" composition by a filmmaker whose influences include, say, Bruce Connor, Kenneth Anger, Stan Brakhage, Luis Bunuel, Jean-Luc Godard, Dziga Vertov, and/or Guy Maddin. Would you perceive it differently, whether you thought it was any good or not?
What if you were told that it was a meditation on the intersection of the actor's gaze, the camera's gaze, and the gaze into the mirror; of the movies that have been implanted so deeply in our heads that they become part of us; of the human face as blank slate and reflection of thoughts and emotions; of the skull beneath the skin and the vanity of the flesh; of subconscious metamorphoses and/or stream-of-consciousness Surrealist dream-imagery? A densely interwoven montage of images that requires annotation and explanation to fully understand (you know, like Eliot's poetry)? Or a Surrealist experiment in the vein of "Un Chien Andalou," using only silent footage, scored to a multi-tracked collage soundtrack composed of excerpts from two symphonies by Gustav Mahler and stock sound effects?
View image It's the third door on your...
Kathleen Murphy has written a stunning piece over at Testpattern called "The Haunted Palace." (I've been waiting weeks for it to appear so I could send you there.) Although primarily about Alain Resnais' "Last Year at Marienbad," the article moves through those haunted corridors, into Stanley Kubrick's Overlook Hotel, passing through doors (and walls) into the worlds of Max Ophuls, Luis Buñuel, Josef von Sternberg... As you wander through the maze of this "Lady from Shanghai" hall of mirrors you'll catch glimpses of ghosts around every corner -- not just the phantom images of particular movies, but insights into a spectral world Dave Kehr has described as "the lost continent of cinephilia."
From Kathleen's magnificent guided tour of the grounds: Once upon a time, movie-loving folk actually, in the words of Susan Sontag, "arranged their emotional and intellectual lives around an art that was 'poetic and mysterious and erotic and moral all at the same time.'" We thrived on films such as "Vertigo" (1958), "L'Avventura" (1960), "Jules and Jim" (1962), "My Life to Live" (1962) -- works that, like [Ophuls'] "Letter From an Unknown Woman," plunged into the very DNA of the cinematic imagination. We happily drowned, not in narrative alone -- or even at all -- but in the seductive images, spaces and faces conjured by the formidable magic of the medium....
View image Marlene Dietrich, "The Scarlet Empress" (Josef von Sternberg, 1935). A pivotal moment of (re-) birth after providing her country with a male heir -- though not one fathered by her husband, royal half-wit Grand Duke Peter.
View image "Scarlet Empress": "... one of those extraordinary women who create their own laws and logic..." Beds, dreams, filters.
Memory starts one image pinging off others across time and movies. Ruminating upon the Close-Up Blog-a-thon at the House Next Door (which, obviously, I can't stop doing), I see close-ups flowing into and out of one another, dreams within dreams within nightmares, on themes of memory, loss, identity, the process of consciousness and the end of consciousness -- you know, the stuff movies are made of.
View image "Once Upon a Time in the West" (Sergio Leone, 1968): Mrs. Jill McBain (Claudia Cardinale) arrives in Sweetwater to find her family slaughtered. After the funeral, she is alone in a big bed in a small room in a vast new land.
View image Final shot, "Once Upon a Time in America" (Sergio Leone, 1984): David "Noodles" Aaronson flops down in an opium den to smoke away his pain and drifts off into a narcotic dream...
In the Godardian spirit of making a movie as a critique/analysis of other movies, here's a free-association visual essay/commentary on close-ups (with inserts, jump cuts, switchbacks, flashbacks, flash-forwards...) that got synapses firing in my brain as I flipped through shots in my memory -- and my DVD collection. Looking back, most of them seem to be filtered, obscured, freeze-framed or reflected faces of characters reaching an impasse or a reckoning -- largely from the endings of some of my favorite movies. I wish I could actually cut the film together, so that I could show them in motion, control how long each shot remains on the screen and fiddle with the rhythms (flash cuts, match cuts, reversals of motion), but I don't know have the technology or the know-how for that at the moment. So, imagine this as a (sometimes perverse) little movie, a "found footage" montage sequence... Kuleshovian, Rorschachian, Hitcockian, Gestaltian, however you want to look at it. I suppose it's also a look in the mirror.
Hope you can see the associations, juxtapositions, oppositions, contradictions I was going for, although I'm not sure I consciously understand all the leaps myself. They just flowed together this way. Feel free to make your own connections. (And, of course, be aware that you may find spoilers surfacing. With a broadband connection all 38 enlarge-able images should load in about 10 seconds.)
View image Final shot, "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" (Robert Altman, 1971): The camera moves in on Mrs. Miller (Julie Christie), in an opium den while snow drifts outside.
View image Flash cut to final shot of "Petulia" (Richard Lester, 1968): Petulia (Julie Christie), in labor, feels the hand of someone (husband? lover? doctor?) on her cheek just before she blacks out under anaesthesia.
View image Flash cut to final close-up, "Le Boucher" (Claude Chabrol, 1970): Drained and devastated after a long and harrowing night-trip to the hospital, Helene (Stephane Audran) drives herself to a dead end and stares across the impassible river in the cold light of dawn.
View image Flash cut to final freeze-frame close-up, "The 400 Blows" (by Chabrol's New Wave compatriot, Francois Truffaut, 1959): Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Leaud) reaches the ocean at the edge of the continent. Where to go from here?
View image Flash cut to final moment of final shot: "Nights of Cabiria" (1957) (Federico Fellini): Cabiria (Giulietta Masina) pulls herself together, puts her game face on, looks into the camera and smiles through tears in a tender moment of quiet triumph. Another of the most famous movie-ending close-ups.
View image Wim Wenders' "Kings of the Road" (or literal English translation: "In the Course of Time"). You may recognize the poster image from outside the theater in which "Duck Soup" is playing in Woody Allen's "Hannah and Her Sisters." This movie can also save your life.
An ad hoc bunch of 51 online movie enthusiasts (online movie critics, bloggers, et al.), organized by Edward Copeland, the eponymous proprietor of "Edward Copeland on Film," recently composed our unordered lists of up to 25 most significant (or enduring or even favorite) "foreign-language" talkies.
Eduardo (as he might be known in, say, Mexico or Spain or Uruguay or Nicaragua or Puerto Rico) took on the gargantuan task of tabulating the ballots and coming up with the initial list of 122 nominees. As he explains: I set a few guidelines for eligibility: 1) No film more recent than 2002 was eligible; 2) They had to be feature length; 3) They had to have been made either mostly or entirely in a language other than English; 4) Documentaries and silent films were ineligible, though I made do lists for those in the future if this goes well. In all, 434 films received votes, not counting those that had to be disqualified for not meeting the criteria.In order to make the final ballot, films had to receive at least three "votes." I'm happy that most of my initial choices made the finals. And there were five I've never seen, so I have these to look forward to: Elem Klimov's "Come and See," Sergio Corbucci's "The Great Silence" (a spaghetti western), Wong Kar-Wai's "In the Mood For Love," Bela Tarr's 7.5-hour "Satantango," and Hayao Miyazaki's anime "Spirited Away." (And I've never made it all the way through "Amelie" or "Chungking Express.")
This exercise also reminded me of a bunch of movies I need to re-watch, because it's been too long (at least 20 years) and I don't remember them very well, including: Jacques Rivette's "Celine and Julie Go Boating" (always hard to see, but available on Region 2 DVD, at least), Carl Theodor Dreyer's "Days of Wrath," Lucino Visconti's "The Leopard," Kenji Mizoguchi's "The Story of the Late Crysanthemums" (and, for that matter, "The Life of Oharu," which deserved to be on the list and which I have on import DVD), and Edward Yang's "Yi Yi" (which I've been meaning to revisit since his untimely death).
Best of all, the list serves as a reminder that the vast majority of these films, available on DVD, are easier to see now than they have ever been since they were made! Most are just as easy to borrow from NetFlix as "Wild Hogs."
For my Own Personal List, and some observations about the preliminary results, click to continue...
Meanwhile, if any of the participants -- or any readers -- would like to publish their own lists, please feel free to do so in comments! I'll show you mine if...
As far as I can tell, this is not Pauline Kael.
"The hot-pants Queen Victoria of American film criticism, Pauline Kael has now paid the debt of nature, providing the obituarians with the opportunity to finally top off their 35-year outpouring of ardor and awe. Never before has a film critic's living reputation sent so many scrambling for encomiums, and never has a film critic's passing left so many media mouths so verklempt. Don't expect it to ever happen again: Kael reigned supreme as film culture's fiery, maenadic Mrs. Grundy—what will she say?—during that culture's most fecund and dynamic day, which has long gone the way of film clubs, the Monthly Film Bulletin, Luis Buñuel, and the Bleecker Street Cinema."
-- Michael Atkinson, Village Voice, September 10, 2001 (link to full "obit")
Letter in response to the above:
Michael Atkinson is certainly entitled to hate Pauline Kael's work. But what in the world did the late film critic, who died on September 3 at the age of 82, do to deserve such a gleefully hateful ''obituary'' ''As the Lights Go Down,'' September 18? The late New York Times film critic Vincent Canby wasn't subjected to this sort of slander in his Voice eulogy. Then again, Canby was a man--and it's the fact that Kael was a woman that evidently sticks in Atkinson's craw. How else to explain his descriptions of her as a ''maenadic Mrs. Grundy,'' a ''high priestess,'' ''the wolverine bitch,'' a ''hot-pants Queen Victoria,'' and ''a miniature tigress with gray hair and barbed tongue.'' Or Atkinson's ridiculous contention that Kael's ''relentless eminence'' was, in part, a result of her gender. Does he honestly think that Kael became celebrated because she was a woman? Does anyone?
Manohla Dargis Los Angeles, California
Michael Atkinson replies: I don't ''gleefully hate'' Kael or her writing, but the national brown-nosing performed upon her at the perpetual expense of much wiser critics has been absurd. Canby never garnered such overripe praise, and saying so doesn't imply he deserved to. As for Kael's sex, guess what: The American media got off on her doughty-dame public profile, as her unprecedented (for a film critic) eulogization demonstrated. Pick a knee-jerk gender fight if you want, but her writing still isn't all it's been cracked up to be.
The Sunday New York Times Magazine devoted itself to comedy this weekend -- and you know how funny the New York Times Magazine can be. Actually, there's a very good article by A.O. Scott on the art of the pratfall in which he explains why some of the greatest modern comedy (from "Little Miss Sunshine" to "Borat") is of the well-executed physical variety. (Not to be confused with what Chris Farley used to call, with an undertone of dismay, "Fat Guy Falls Down" -- a desperate stunt that may elicit knee-jerk laughs, even if it's not inherently funny.)
As part of its comedic survey, the Times Mag asked some 22 comedians, well-known and not-, to name five of their favorite "Desert Island Comedies" on DVD. I don't like any of the lists much (while agreeing wholeheartedly with a few individual choices) -- but I salute David Cross (somebody I've long thought is really funny) for the humor inherent in choosing "Homer and Eddie" and "Rent."
To paraphrase an old David Steinberg routine: There are those who say... (that's the end of my paraphrase) that to analyze comedy is anti-comedic. I could not disagree more strongly. I say if you don't understand why you're laughing, when you're laughing, then you don't appreciate the comedy and you may as well not be laughing at all, since any old reaction is probably comparably appropriate for you. You could be crying or sneezing and it's probably the same thing. But let's put that aside for the moment and concentrate on some lists of very personal, very funny movies.
I suppose I could choose the great movies that have made me laugh the most -- the first that come to mind, such as: a Keaton ("Sherlock, Jr." or "Steamboat Bill, Jr."), a Fields ("It's A Gift" or "The Bank Dick"), a Marx Bros. ("Animal Crackers" or "Duck Soup"), a Sturges ("The Lady Eve" or "Miracle of Morgan's Creek"), and, let's say, a classic comedy (preferably starring Cary Grant or Barbara Stanwyck or Jean Arthur, and written and/or directed by Ernst Lubitsch or Howard Hawks or Billy Wilder or Mitchell Leisen, like "Trouble in Paradise" or "Heaven Can Wait" (1943) or "Bringing Up Baby" or "His Girl Friday" or "The Major and the Minor" or "Some Like It Hot" or "Easy Living" or "Ball of Fire"...). But those are all 50-75 years old, and I haven't even mentioned my modern-era favorites, like Luis Bunuel ("The Exterrminating Angel," "Simon of the Desert," "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie," "The Phantom of Liberty"), Monty Python ("Life of Brian" -- greatest comedy of the last half-century), Christopher Guest & ensemble ("Spinal Tap," "Waiting for Guffman," "Best in Show") or the Coen Bros. ("Barton Fink," "The Big Lebowski"). So, I thought I'd just offer up a few relatively obscure, underappreciated or, at least, off-the-beaten-path comedies that I think are hysterically funny and invite you contribute some of your own:
"I Was Born, But..." (Yasujiro Ozu, 1932) I know it's an acknowledged masterpiece by one of the greatest directors in movie history, but how many of you have actually seen it? Two boys, big belly laughs. Some of this material was re-worked in "Ohayo" ("Good Morning") in 1959.
"The President's Analyst" (Theodore J. Flicker, 1967) I love this movie -- the perfect paranoid Cold War 1960s espionage satire companion to "Dr. Strangelove" and James Bond, with James Coburn in the title role. Who is writer/directorTheodore J. Ficker, anyway? Well, according to IMDb, he directed episodes of "The Dick Van Dyke Show," "The Man From U.N.C.L.E., "The Andy Griffith Show," "I Dream of Jeannie," "Night Gallery" and "Barney Miller."
"Taking Off" (Milos Forman, 1971) You couldn't find a better time capsule for 1971 -- which Forman has captured with his characteristically uncanny ease and naturalness. Buck Henry "stars" as a father whose daughter has run away to some sort of "hippie" musical audition -- probably in the Village. The whole thing feels spontaneous and improvised -- but it was written by Forman, Jean-Claude Carrierer ("The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie," "The Phantom of Liberty," "Birth"), John Guare ("Atlantic City," "Six Degrees of Separation") and Jon Klein. One of the late, great Vincent Schiavelli's finest moments: teaching a group of uptight, wealthy parents with missing kids how to smoke pot. Early cameos by Kathy Bates, Carly Simon and Jessica Harper, among others. (Long unavailable, this recently showed up on the Sundance Channel, which I hope means it will soon be released on DVD.)
"How to Get Ahead in Advertising"(Bruce Robinson, 1989) Robinson's equally brilliant and demented "Withnail & I" is the official masterpiece (and object of obsessive cult veneration in the UK), but this is Richard E. Grant's finest hour. He's a London advertising executive so sick with self-loathing that he grows a foul-mouthed boil on his neck. How's that for a premise?
Coldblooded" (Wallace Wolodarsky, 1995) In some ways, this is a precursor to "Dexter." Jason Priestly is magnificently deadpan as an empty young man who is recruited to become a hit man -- and turns out to be mighty good at it. Co-starring Peter Riegert, Robert Loggia (getting ready for "Lost Highway"), and Jay Kogen -- who, along with writer/director Wolodarsky, wrote some of the classic early episodes of "The Simpsons."
"Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy" (Kelly Makin, 1996) Critics were mostly bewildered or repulsed, but this movie gets funnier every time I see it (and I've seen it at least a dozen times). It plays GREAT on the video screen -- better, I think, than any of the TV shows. A drug company speeds a new anti-depressant to the market, only to find that the insanely popular Gleemonex has a troublesome side effect: It puts people into comas of happiness. Each of the "Kids" has at least a handful of indescribably (but not inexplicably) funny moments. Including: "Cat on my head! Cat on my head!"; "I'm an elephant rider!"; "Tasty"; "How pleasing!"; and "Just... a guy." Should be seen alongside the great documentary, "The Corporation."
I cheated. That's six. But, OK, I've left out hundreds of great titles. Your turn. And the more obscure/underappreciated the better, please.
P.S. Anybody else remember the rest of the sentence from that David Steinberg bit?
View image O, say, can you see Borat? For what he is?
The New York Times headline about all the political films in this year's TIFF was: "At the Toronto Film Festival, Liberal Politics As Usual." David M. Halfbinger of the Times cites Barbara Koppel's Dixie Chicks documentary and the fictionalized doc about the assassination of George W. Bush ("D.O.A.P." or "Death of a President") in his round-up of evidence to support his thesis that Toronto "has been all but overrun with films attacking President Bush or the protracted war in Iraq — in subtle ways and like sledgehammers, with vitriol and with dispassionate fly-on-the-wall observation."
This may well be true (even though, as some would quickly point out, it is in the New York Times); I don't know because I haven't seen most of the films he lists (yet), though I'll probably get to a few. But I'm mildly surprised that he doesn't mention the two most scathing attacks on the Bush regime that I've seen so far: Guillermo del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth" (in which the Franco Fascists fight the local insurgents) and Sacha Baron Cohen's and Larry Charles' "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan." OK, Halfbinger does mention "Borat," but mainly to say that Michael Moore was at the midnight premiere, where the projector broke down.
Before I forget to mention it explicitly: Yes, I loved "Borat."
View image Three Women of "Volver": Sister, niece/daughter, sister.
The dry east wind that howls through the little village in La Mancha where Pedro Almodovar was born, and where his latest film "Volver" begins, brings with it unease, fire and insanity. In the opening shot, it blows crisp dead leaves across marble graves, while women dust and polish the stones. Sometimes, they even come by to clean their own graves. It's just another housekeeping chore.